Archive for the 'Parent-to-Parent' Category

Create a holiday book together

boys with gingerbread houses

It’s hard to believe that once again the holidays are sneaking up on us and will be knocking at our doors before we know it. Last year I posted a book list for children of different ages from newborn through 18 months. If you’re looking for children’s books to give as gifts, please take a look at that article.

Like many of you, my husband and I took pictures of the special times together with our children during the holidays. We took pictures of selecting our tree and decorating it, baking cookies, visiting Santa at the mall, and the list goes on and on, culminating with the arduous task of taking down our tree. We did little with those pictures until the following Christmas, when we would look back at them and reflect on the special times we had together and the people in our lives that made our holiday so special.

Then one year I decided to capture all of our special times together and make our own book. Each time we did something for the holidays with our children, I captured those special moments with a photograph. Throughout the holiday season, we collected several dozen pictures. When the holidays were over, we looked through our pictures and chose our favorites, then put text with the pictures. I used my kids’ words and ideas. We even added a page with our puppy’s paw print.

That book became our coffee table book that year and the children looked at every day. It also seemed to be the book that houseguests gravitated to; they commented on it and asked questions. It was truly our family’s favorite holiday book. It was the last decoration put into the holiday bins, so it was the first item pulled out each year.

In January after the holidays are over, we often find time to do things that we weren’t able to do in December. Preparing for Christmas and Hanukkah is time consuming, so January is the perfect time to reflect, look at photos and make a special book together.

So this holiday season, capture those memories and enjoy them for years to come. There are several companies and apps that can help you accomplish this, including Shutterfly and Snapfish. Your book can be as simple or as elaborate as you’d like it to be.

Head over to Tom’s Guide for several ideas and updates on how to do this. The site also ranks the various photo book services. One service in particular, Mixbook, offers a step-by-step direction guide to first time book makers. However, look at the reviews on the website to find the place that works for you. Tom’s Guide also ranks the companies that are available for you to create a book that your children will love.

Happy reading!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.

I’m the mom of the “bad” kid and I’m done being sorry

boy with slingshot

I’m writing this with tears rolling down my face.

You see, I’m the mom of “the bad kid.”

My beautiful, funny boy has a reputation, even in first grade, and my heart is breaking. This was all triggered for me today when I got a text from his teacher. At recess he kicked and spit in the face of another kid. Apparently, the other kid said, “I hope you die,” to my son, but still, the behavior is unacceptable.

Without making excuses for my kid’s behavior, I’d like to help the majority of you understand what it’s like being the parent of “that” kid. The “bad” one.

As parents, we are trying with every ounce of strength we have.

We have therapists for kids and families, pediatricians, evaluations, 504 plans, ADHD-combined diagnosis, and meetings with school counselors, principals and teachers. We have good behavior award plans, bad choices consequences and the will to help him succeed.

It is exhausting, physically and emotionally.

My kid isn’t bad, and I’m not a bad parent.

He’s not a rotten apple, a statistic, poor sport or bully. He has a mental illness and it’s called ADHD. We are working very hard to teach him the skills he needs in life to manage his emotions appropriately and make good choices. But, as a mother who loves her son with every fiber of my being, it shatters me to think someone doesn’t see the boy I know. The boy who protects the two-year-old next door from a stray cat. He unplugs the battery on our power wheels so that same little girl can sit in it without driving out of control. He’s the first one to defend his sister and can sense when someone is sad. He is beautiful.

ADHD sucks.

Yes, it’s a real thing and yes, I believe this diagnosis. ADHD isn’t just the inability to pay attention. It’s also the inability to think things through with no concept of cause/effect. Because my son has this, he’s more prone to losing friends, being labeled the class clown and getting in trouble. Later, in his teens, he’s more likely to make dangerous decisions. Kids with impulsive issues are more likely to run into the street without looking, jump off the garage roof because it looks fun, try drugs/alcohol and drive at reckless speeds.

I tell him his brain works differently than mine. My brain is a regular car and his is a race car. We are not the same and because I’m the adult, I need to meet him where he is, wherever he is, and sometimes, he’s hard to find.

It’s easy to judge.

I get it. I really do. If another child acted toward my kid the way my son does, my inner mama bear would come out, too. It’s only natural.

But understand this: My son will apologize for any of his inappropriate behavior and there will be consequences for bad choices. However, he will never apologize for being who he is or for his diagnosis and neither will I.

Please try to understand.

After-school activities are fun. So are birthday parties, soccer games, family events, holidays and class projects.

Parenting an ADHD kid requires adjustment though, which means I can’t always commit to activities, especially after school. My kid has been trying to keep it together all day and to ask him to hold on even longer is setting him up to fail. Kids with ADHD tend to have self-esteem issues because they’re constantly being corrected. If I can give him one less opportunity to goof, I’m doing that.

Also, think about how we parents feel. Every day, we get reports on how the being we love most in the world is messing up. Every day. We’re the parents on the playground who are always having a chat with the teacher, who are always listening to the list of complaints from another parent. It takes its toll.

I’m going to put this to you straight. Yes, it’s embarrassing. But it’s also frustrating, heart breaking and I’m sick of it. He’s my son. I’m going to will him to succeed and I will be his biggest fan along the way. He was born in my heart and he’ll always have a place there. And no matter what anyone says or thinks about him, I’m only ever going to see one thing: a diamond in the rough.

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Adoption, luck and gratitude

woman with baby comforting a toddler girl

“Your children are so lucky!” “They must be so grateful.” These are comments adoptive parents often hear in regard to their children, but they reflect an adult perspective on a life event that is experienced completely differently by a child.

One thing non-adoptive parents often fail to understand is that adoption is a joy born from grief and loss. So when we are talking about luck and gratitude in the context of adoption, we need to clearly define what those terms really mean from the child’s perspective.

“Luck” is something many adopted children believe they do not have. Is it really “lucky” to be born into a situation where, for whatever reason, you cannot be raised with your birth family? Is it “lucky” to be taken, through no fault of your own, from the mother whose voice you heard and whose food you ate for months before you were born and perhaps for months or years after? Is it “lucky” when every family event features a comparison between your cousins’ and grandfather’s big ears, highlighting the physical traits you don’t have in common with your adopted family?

“Gratitude,” as any of us who parent teenagers know, is often in short supply with our children. To expect an adopted child to be any more grateful than a biological child is unrealistic and unfair. The adoptive parents presumably wanted to be parents and persisted in that quest until they were able to bring children into their family through adoption. Most adoptive parents believe that we are the grateful ones – grateful to our children for allowing us to love and parent them after a very difficult and painful separation that they didn’t ask for and were likely too young to understand.

It’s also important to remember that adoptive parents have often (not always, but often) come to adoption after losing their dream of having a biological child. They are also grieving the loss of the “idealized” family they had in their mind – the loss of the experience of pregnancy, perhaps multiple losses of children through miscarriage, the loss of that little kid with grandpa’s ears. The notions of “luck” and “gratitude” are often very different for adoptive parents as well as for their children.

In an ideal world, every child born is wanted and every birth mother is able and willing to raise a child born to her until that child is an adult. But we don’t live in an ideal world. And adoptive families don’t live in a morose and grief-filled world, but we do have to acknowledge the loss is there, to give our children the ability to express it when they need to, to understand that their grief is not a comment on our parenting but is simply a reality, a faint backdrop that becomes more pronounced from time to time.

Are we all lucky and grateful that somehow the universe brought us together and allowed us to become a family? Yes, of course, but it’s a very different kind of luck and gratitude, the kind that defies loss and grief and brings us together in joy.

– Kathy Henry is an adoptive parent to two teenage boys, makes a living as a marketing consultant and copywriter, and is a “professional” volunteer for several organizations, including the Beaumont Parenting Program. The pay is lousy but the rewards are great!

Building Halloween excitement before the big day

house decorated for Halloween

With so many things to love about fall, it is definitely my favorite season. Football, cooler temperatures, changing leaves, apple orchards, cider, donuts, sweaters, boots, and of course … Halloween. Halloween is such a fun and exciting holiday, especially for kids. As soon as the calendar flips to October at our house, the spooky Halloween buzz begins. While I wouldn’t say we go Halloween “crazy,” over the years I’ve enjoyed doing simple little things here and there to make the month fun, and to build the excitement and anticipation of the day.

Halloween décor

Adding indoor and outdoor decorations always makes things seem more festive. You don’t have to go “all out” all at once. I’ve collected things over the years, often on clearance after the holiday. We always add one new decoration each year, and the kids love getting them out and helping me decide where things should go.

jack-o-lantern clementinesFun food

Pinterest is full of silly Halloween snack and food ideas. I usually keep it simple and the kids still love it. I always try to pick up a box of Halloween cereal to surprise them with, and you can make an adorable pumpkin for the lunchbox with just a clementine and a Sharpie.

Visit a Halloween supply store

Whether you already have the costumes set or not, visiting a Halloween store is lots of fun. There’s so much to look at, masks to try on, and even some spooky animatronics that might make you jump. Keep toddlers close by as many of these are motion activated. Older kids may enjoy this activity more than the little ones.

Local free events

Many cities host trick-or-treating at the local businesses before Halloween, and many schools have trunk-or treat events where you decorate your car and kids go car-to-car collecting treats. It’s nice to get some additional opportunities to wear those costumes!

Enjoy Halloween books and movies

Now is a perfect time to dim the lights, pop some popcorn and watch a Halloween movie or read your favorite spooky books together. Lighting some candles or giving the kids small flashlights, always helps to set the scene and make it even more special. There are many age-appropriate choices; here are a few of our family favorites:

Send out Halloween greeting cards

Receiving unexpected fun mail is the best! There are so many adorable Halloween cards in the stores or you can make your own. Pick a few friends and family and send them a Halloween greeting. I promise they will be surprised! People often expect a birthday card, but when was the last time you got a Halloween card? We have a family friend that sends one to my kids every year and they always look forward to it. You can also throw in some spooky stickers to make it even more exciting.

Happy Halloween!

– Kelly Ryan, LMSW, Beaumont Parenting Program Director. She is also mom to Cassie and Connor, and coordinator of Halloween shenanigans at the House of Ryan.




Suicide awareness is everyone’s responsibility

sad older boy hiding head

I struggled starting this. Really struggled. Suicide is a tough subject and sadly, it’s one we need to talk about.

In Michigan, we’ve seen a 31 to 37 percent increase in suicides between 1999 and 2016, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, suicide is on the rise across the United States, not just Michigan. It’s in the top 10 causes of death for Americans and is one of the three causes that are on the rise.

Those statistics are a warning signal to all of us: suicide is not someone else’s problem.

The CDC stats showed 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide in 2016. “Age 10” startled me. My kids are 6. Looks like I’ll be having a talk earlier than I thought.

But what to say?

Age-appropriate honesty has been my policy. I don’t plan to whisper or suggest that suicide is something to be ashamed of. It’s the end stages of a disease of the brain. Brains get sick and sometimes, medicine and doctors can’t help.

As a parent, it’s always good to know the signs. Here are a few I got from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

  • talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • talking about being a burden to others
  • increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • sleeping too little or too much
  • withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • extreme mood swings

There are also risk factors such as mental illness, physical illness, drug/alcohol abuse, trauma, job or financial loss, cultural and religious beliefs, or exposure to suicide.

Having the talk about suicide with your child is along the lines of any other difficult conversation—sex, drugs, bullying, guns, etc. Try and be as honest as you can and remember to listen to what they say in return. Then hug your kids. Let them know they matter and their emotions are legitimate.

The good news is, there is hope. Suicide can be prevented you have to be aware of the signs and don’t be afraid to ask the uncomfortable question.

Like I said, I struggled with this blog. I don’t like thinking about the aloneness that someone thinking about suicide feels. We’re all supposed to be out there looking after each other. So, say something kind to someone today. Or wave to a neighbor. You never know when it’ll make a difference.

­– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

First-day-of-school traditions

first day of school photos

Cropped image. AngryJulieMonday, Flickr. CC license.

Today is the first day back to school for many kids around metro Detroit. Lots of families have special “first day of school” traditions that they look forward to each year. We asked some of the Parenting Program staff and volunteers how they celebrate this special day.

  • My son is just now starting kindergarten, but when he was in preschool, we did an annual picture outlining his favorite food, what he wants to be when he grows up, etc. to see the differences between the years. We plan to continue doing that. We might find some new traditions as well! – Stephanie Babcock
  • We take our son’s picture in front of the tree we planted the spring after he was born. He holds a “First Day of (insert grade here)” sign with the date and wears a special outfit with new shoes for the first day, too. We end the day with ice cream (along with half the other kids from our school since it’s conveniently right across the street)! – Becky Bibbs
  • We’ve only done it twice so far, but we go out for ice cream after the first day. – Rebecca Calappi
  • Our back-to-school tradition is that each of our kids gets to pick a place to go out to dinner (or dessert) in the last few days before school starts. Now that our two oldest are in college, they’ve traded dinner out for their choice of homemade meal before they must go without Mom’s cooking for awhile. Since I’m a bit of a soft touch, that usually turns into a week of “kids’ choice” dinners before they head off to their universities. – Nicole Capozello
  • The only real tradition I have is forcing my kids to take smiley pictures on the front lawn before school until they want to scream with vexation. – Wendy MacKenzie
  • We always do pictures on the front porch with our kids holding up fingers representing the grade for that year. Our kids always get a special outfit purchased for that day. – Kelly Ryan
  • We always take a picture with our dog on our front porch. This year my son is starting kindergarten, so I would like to buy him an adult-sized shirt that says “Class of 2031” on the front and have him wear it each first day of school. I saw that some people hand-print their child’s hands in paint on the back for each grade, so we might do that too.  On Friday, we will go out for ice cream on Friday to celebrate the first week. – Emily Swan

What are your family’s traditions for the first day of school? We’d love to see how you celebrate!

Picture “perfect”

boy and girl on first day of school

Pretty much the last thing my kids want to do when heading off to school is pose for pictures. Much to their chagrin, they are lassoed by their parents and wrangled into poses on the front lawn. The sun, peeking through the last of the summer green, illuminates the various scowls and glares that my kids present to the camera. After many attempts, as the minutes before the first bell tick away, we finally manage to drag a half-smile out of them. And that’s what makes my family’s First Day of School pictures so memorable: the sheer effort it takes to produce a satisfactory result.

Hopefully, for most families, taking pictures on this momentous day is a less-trying venture.

Preserving the day for posterity is important. If a cheerful and smiling face is your priority, you may want to consider taking your pictures after school, when time constraints are less of a factor and tensions aren’t running as high. Every year I insist upon the before-school-sullen-kids photos, which are now more of a tradition than anything else. But I have discovered that the pictures taken after school are often more pleasant, both to shoot and to look at later. Everyone tends to be more relaxed, which leads to better cooperation and more genuine smiles.

If you want to truly capture a snapshot of “The First Day of School” though, avoid posing the kids at all. Have your phone in your hand (and really, where else would it be?) and grab some shots at different points throughout the day. Candid shots are amazing for preserving memories; you can instruct your subject to “look happy!” but as we know, a truly happy moment is something that can’t be produced on command. It must be captured. Sneakily. And really, those shots where someone is being a stinker or otherwise not performing up to par, those are the ones people like to see on Facebook and Instagram.

The first day of school, for many, offers a wide range of emotions: excitement, trepidation, frustration, panic, relief. (My children could be described as “grumpy,” largely due to my photo efforts.) Which moments will be preserved in your photos?

– Wendy MacKenzie is a mother of four, Parenting Program volunteer, and a champion at annoying everyone on the first day of school.


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